Salt Lake Tribune article: ‘Driver in Fatal Crash Gets Probation; Fine Dismissed’ (2/3/10)
Sentencing » Prosecution evidence of texting while driving is thrown out.
By Nate Carlisle and Jason Bergreen
The Salt Lake Tribune – Updated: 02/02/2010 06:34:30 PM MST
West Valley City » A motorist charged with hitting and killing 76-year-old Kenneth Christensen in May as he sat at a bus stop was found guilty Monday of three driving infractions but not of negligent collision.
At the conclusion of a bench trial in front of Judge Keith Stoney, Gabi Idowu, 24, was found guilty of failure to signal, failure to maintain control of his car and weaving. Stoney dismissed charges of negligent collision and improper lookout. All were infractions.
The prosecution was hampered halfway through the trial when Stoney threw out evidence that Idowu was sending text messages before the crash. Prosecutors did not share that evidence with the defense before trial, and Stoney ruled the texts were not admissible unless Idowu took the witness stand and was asked about them.
In her opening argument, prosecutor Amy Jones said Idowu was not paying attention and was negligent in driving his car onto a sidewalk and striking Christensen as he sat in his motorized wheelchair at a covered bus stop.
Idowu’s attorney, Charles Stewart, said his client lost control when a dark blue SUV cut him off.
“This truly was an accident in the classic sense, not negligence,” Stewart said.
The wreck occurred May 27 on 3500 South west of the intersection with Bangerter Highway. Driver Kelly Pennington, told the court she was behind and to the left of Idowu’s Volvo sedan.
The Volvo suddenly began veering from the right lane onto the sidewalk, Pennington said.
“I remember thinking, ‘He’s not braking and he’s running off the road,'” Pennington said. Myrna Hupka, who said she was driving behind Idowu’s car that day, said she saw the Volvo start to move to the left lane. Then, Hupka said, a “little green car” sped past her and the Volvo swerved right to avoid the green car. Hupka said she saw the Volvo continue onto the sidewalk and strike what she later learned was a bus stop.
Hupka and Pennington said they did not see any turn signals or brake lights.
West Valley City police Detective Daren Getz, who investigates traffic accidents, said he found no signs of braking. From the witness stand, Getz held up a photograph showing the Volvo resting on top of a Utah Transit Authority ticket machine and the remains of the bus station. Christensen’s daughter, Clover Daniels, was in the gallery and began crying when Getz pointed to Christensen’s wheelchair pinned under the Volvo.
Idowu was earlier charged with felony automobile homicide because prosecutors believed he had been under the influence of antidepressants. But no such medication was found in drug screenings and the charge was dismissed after Idowu spent three months in jail awaiting trial.
Stoney sentenced Idowu to 18 months of probation. He was fined $2,250, but the fine was dismissed, court documents state.